What is Apple’s New Silicon?
Set your time machine back to 2005. YouTube had just launched, Microsoft released Xbox 360, and The Chronicles of Narnia movie was a hit at the box offices. This was also the year that Apple announced they would be moving to Intel as their chip provider. To the general population, this just meant more compatibility and a shiny new operating system.
Fast forward to 2020. Apple Announced that they would be moving beyond the giant chip maker, Intel, to making their own computer chips: M1. Again, what does that mean to consumers? Faster computers, better battery life, and a brilliant new operating system.
Apple has actually been making its own CPU and GPU chips since 2010, but you may not have known because they were in their iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches. During this time, they got really good at the process, effectively setting themselves apart from the competition as their chips became much faster and used far less power.
When Apple announced its new M1 processor at their November 2020 “One More Thing” event, they announced something more than just three new computers. With its tight integration of software, Apple’s new chip allowed them to make batteries last substantially longer while providing a lot of computing power. Seriously, these chips could quite possibly be the fastest laptop chips in the world.
It was up in the air how this would affect pricing for their premium products. Those familiar with Apple are well aware that their products can be quite expensive. However, for the announcement of the new Macbook Air, Mac Mini, and the MacBook Pro, the prices remained the same as last year or dropped a little.
Macs in the Classroom
For students, this upgrade is quite substantial. For $899 (with education pricing), students can get a computer that is a thoroughly solid performer. The power that it provides rivals high-end intel chips, which means that things are snappier on the computer, programs launch more quickly, and those who have creative hobbies will experience fewer hiccups.
In fact, most people can get away with the baseline MacBook Air for their whole college career. Though a computer close to 1K may sound like a lot, most macs have fewer issues than their counterparts and retain a very high resale value. Meaning they may be more upfront but possibly a better long term investment.
Some Improvements From Last Year
The MacBook Air has mainly the same form factor. At .16 inches at its smallest point and just 2.8 pounds, it’s a computer you can carry around all day. And you can use it all day because of the new efficiency. The Mac can last up to 18 hours on a charge. Comparatively, most students may spend at most 6 hours in a classroom in a day (if you took multiple courses and had a night class one night). In other words, there is plenty of power to get coursework done!
The Mac now wakes instantaneously, meaning that you can get to class just in the nick of time, open your computer and start taking notes immediately. Plus, with 8GB of RAM, you can run a bunch of programs simultaneously. Have Spotify open while writing a paper, while on FaceTime with a friend, while looking through your notes, while… you get the picture.
One area that Apple has always shined is the core of its operating system built on Unix, which has a preemptive multitasking kernel. To make a long bit of technical jargon short, Macs distribute their short term memory (RAM) and CPU resources to programs in a cycle where the kernel never gives up ultimate control, meaning that no program can suck too much memory or CPU at any given time. This means you can run more apps at the same time and will have less of the apps crash (even if a program crashes, it doesn’t take down the whole program). Instead, the programs may just slow down, but not the operating system like the mouse. When you exit out of them, your computer goes back to normal. This is helpful for those intense projects where you need a bunch of things open at the same time.
The Retina display is the same as last year but offers a crisp view that also allows for more to be open because everything can be smaller and still readable. Plus, with USB-C 4, and Thunderbolt 3, you can connect a lot up to the computer, allowing you to edit off of an external hard drive if you need more space, or hooking it up to a TV in a classroom to present.
The dongle-life is real. By removing the HDMI port, traditional USB-A ports, etc., you need a dongle (a connector) for most things. If you buy these from Apple directly, they can get pricy. However, Amazon offers a lot of the same styles for a lot less.
Things You Can Do on New MacBook Air
- Write papers
- Research on the web
- Create compelling presentations for class
- Work on schoolwork in Canvas
- Watch Netflix
- Create a short film for the 24-Hour Film Fest with your phone
- Listen to Music (Music stored on the computer or streaming)
- Start designing your own website during Interactive Design
- Play basic games like Among Us or Minecraft
- FaceTime with your mom
As well as more advanced things:
- Edit high-res DSLR pictures in Lightroom for your photography class
- Create posters for your favorite club or event
- Edit multiple streams of 4K videos (to make that cinematic masterpiece)
- Play high-end games from Steam
- Record or create original songs (like one student did)
- Begin to learn how to code
In some ways, a computer can help boost your college experience. It is just another tool to help you pursue your passions, hobbies, or even interests as you determine what you want to do in college and the future.
What About the Macbook Pro and the Mac Mini?
The 13” Macbook Pro and Mac Mini are actually similar machines. The overall design of the Macbook Air versus the 13” Macbook Pro is really close. The ultimate difference is that the Macbook Pro has a touch bar, and because it has an active cooling system (a fan), it can stay at a higher performance for longer. So, if you plan on doing heavy graphics, lots of video editing, or coding, it will probably help in the long run.
The Mac Mini is a different story altogether. It is much cheaper, coming in at just $680 for the base model. However, it does have one major difference — no screen. It isn’t a portable computer. So if you want to take a computer to class, the coffee shop, or anywhere else, you really need the portability of the Macbook Pro or Macbook Air.
Why should I get more RAM? And what is RAM? RAM is Random Access Memory or the short term memory of the computer. This is what keeps your programs running when you open them. The more you have of this, the more programs you can have open simultaneously, and the more those programs can be doing demanding tasks at the same time. All in all, this is a good thing. So if you can, upgrade to the highest RAM (16GB) to get the most out of the computer. This won’t be noticeable when you first get the computer, but 6-10 years down the road, it can make the difference between a still usable computer and one that is incredibly slow. Note, the RAM can’t be upgraded later, so you will have to make the choice when you buy the computer.
What About Programs?
The Mac comes with a brand new (shiny) operating system called Big Sur. The software includes programs that are specific to the Mac:
|Pages||Word document to write your papers|
|Numbers||Like Excel, if you need to work on spreadsheets|
|Keynote||PPT software that is simple and beautiful|
|Notes||Where you can, you know, take notes|
|iMovie||Simple video editing software to make projects for class or the film fests|
|Photos||Photo storage and editor, for all your college memories|
|Music||For those jam sessions. Or quieter music for those cram sessions|
|AppleTV+||For some entertainment|
But the Mac doesn’t just work with its own programs. You can get the entire Microsoft suite of programs (which each student at Crown gets a copy of for free). This includes Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook, as well as the lesser-known programs. Microsoft has already announced their new versions will work with the new computers.
There is also web-based software like Google Drive, that allows you to create Docs, Sheets (like excel spreadsheets), and their Slides (PPT).
Plus, there are plenty of other programs that people love that will work right out of the box. Simply set up your new Mac, download them and enjoy. Programs like:
Macs offer a solid backup system called Time Machine, which allows you to connect your computer to an inexpensive hard drive and back it up in snapshots. If something were to ever happen to your computer, let’s say you spill coffee all over it and you need to start over, you can plug in the Time machine, pick a snapshot based on date, and restore that! Keeping your coursework backed up is always a smart idea!
Plus, if you choose to store your documents in the cloud, either with Apple’s iCloud or Microsofts OneDrive, you can have multiple copies in multiple locations, allowing you the flexibility to keep on schooling, no matter what your circumstances are.
It should be noted that some have pushed the idea that Macs are only compatible with other Apple computers. But that simply is not the case. Students can spend their entire college career using a Mac and work with all the other systems. In fact, Mac software can actually export to Microsoft formats, so there really isn’t a limitation there. You can buy a discounted version of Parallels through the IT department at Crown, which will allow you to run Windows on your Mac. Giving you the best of both worlds.
For those who want to go one step deeper, as Apple transitions from the highly compatible intel chip to their own software, there is always a concern that older programs may not work. However, Apple introduced Rosetta II, a compiling program that essentially translates the old software into the new format that the chip can read. And because the new Apple M1 silicon chips are so incredibly fast and efficient, you can actually play high-end games through the translation software with minimal impact. In other words, this Mac is more compatible with the world than ever before.
All of Crown’s IT infrastructure works with all platforms. If you need to get into Canvas to submit an assignment, you can do that. If you need to connect to the Crown WiFi network, you can do that. If you need to print at one of our free printer centers, you can do that.
Let’s be honest. There are plenty of options out there for computers. In fact, Crown has computer labs for those who don’t have their own computer. For some, tablets may be the best option. If a student is really only writing papers, emailing, and watching Netflix, there are many cheaper options out there, such as a Chromebook or an inexpensive Windows machine. However, if you are looking to get a computer that goes beyond reliability to opening doors to creative experiences, the new MacBook Air may be just the thing you are looking for.